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At the UN, Undisclosed Envoys Moonlight "When Actually Employed," G-4 Visas and Conflicts

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN

UNITED NATIONS, May 3, update May 9 -- In the murky world of part-time UN envoys, some are paid at a top per diem rate, while others get on paper only one dollar a year. There are approximately 12 of these "dollar a year" envoys, UN spokeswoman Marie Okabe told Inner City Press on Thursday.

    She declined to provide a list, nor to state how many additional officials are paid "When Actually Employed." Inner City Press on May 2 learned of one such official -- former humanitarian coordinator Jan Egeland -- and then of another, Terje Roed-Larsen, who doubles as president of the International Peace Academy and as the UN's envoy to Lebanon and Syria. While there, he apparently gets two paychecks, and in some views impermissibly has two masters. [See update of May 9, below.]

   The UN, however, appears blithely unconcerned. Thursday at the UN's noon briefing, Inner City Press asked Ms. Okabe:

Inner City Press: Yesterday, I was told that Jan Egeland and other people are paid on this "whenever actually employed" basis.  That they're paid as a USG but just for the days that they work.  But they have another employer.  Are they also paid by the other employer at the same time?  Meaning, are they serving two masters?  And what's the review process? ...Who in the UN reviews whether someone working for the UN and also a private entity, that there's not a conflict?  What's the process?

Spokesperson:  Yes, if they are working as a part-time job, they are paid from their other employer.  Well, you'd have to ask them about their other employer.  In terms of if there's a conflict of interest, that's something that the OHRM, our Human Resources Department, would be vetting and, if necessary, with the advice of our Legal Department.

Inner City Press: How many "whenever actually employed" people are there working for the UN?  And can we get a list of those?

Spokesperson:  I think we've mentioned this from this podium.  But, as you know, the new Secretary-General is still in the process of reviewing the various senior officials.  So as soon as the line-up is complete, we will obviously let you know.

Inner City Press: Can we even just know the current line-up?  I'm not saying like who he's going to appoint.  I got a sense yesterday when I got your answer that I didn't know how many of them that there are.

Spokesperson:  I think there is a review process going on.  So I don't think we'll have anything available until that is complete.  But if I can get you something, I will.

 Thursday afternoon, Inner City Press went and asked Ms. Okabe if anything at all was available. She gave a number for the "dollar a years" --- twelve, and note that beyond the dollar a year, they receive hundreds of dollars a daily in DSA, Daily Sustenance Allowance. But as to When Actually Employeds -- WAEs -- she declined to even provide an estimate.  Who are they? Where are they?  And this When Actually Employed status, what is it and when did it begin.

"Let Us Count the WAEs"

   Inner City Press' research, after the above-referenced refusal for two days to list the WAEs, finds that the status began in 1996 in one of Kofi Annan's Bulletins, ST/SGB/283, entitled "Use of 'When Actually Employed' Contracts for Special Representatives, Envoys and Other Special High-Level Positions."

   This Bulletin specifies that WAE "letter of appointment shall state that the holder has the status of a staff member of the United Nations only when actually employed by the United Nations." Given that each WAE requires a six-month letter of appointment, it is not credible that the UN cannot come up with a list of the WAEs. In fact, if the UN had implemented the Freedom of Information procedures it has long promised, such letters of appointment could be requested and obtained without strife or supplication.

    There is a nexus between WAE status and obtaining and retaining G-4 visa status in the United States. If not a WAE, a temporary employee would lose their G-4 visa upon separation from service with the UN. But there is a WAE around this, with six months letter of contract on a sometime on, sometimes off basis. See Information Circular ST/IC/1996/149 of August 1996.

   Before Inner City Press' May 3 noon briefing question, the last time the words "When Actually Employed" came up in a UN noon briefing was in 2005, in connection with Oil for Food, and even then referred back to a particular WAE from 1999 to 2002:

Question:  You've probably seen the reports that Jean-Bernard Merimee, the former French Ambassador and Kofi Annan's own Under-Secretary-General has now been taken into custody in Paris, in connection with the "oil-for-food" scandal.  What can you say about that?  What is the Secretary-General's position about yet another one of his key people now under scrutiny?

Spokesman:  Two things. I would correct what you said in the question.  Mr. Merimee is not an Under-Secretary-General at the UN.  He served from 1999 to 2002 as a special advisor when actually employed at the USG level.  But that was from '99 to 2002.

 So who are the WAEs now? Terje Roed-Larsen, we know, accompanied Ban Ki-moon to Syria.

Terje Roed-Larsen, working for UN, and at least one other master

Based on what sources detailed, Inner City Press asked the Spokesperson's Office to provide:

"beyond my requests to Marie for the timing of Mr. Ocampo's replacement (current Chinese ambassador to the UN in Geneva) beginning, and the specifics of the position(s) and compensation -- dollar figures -- for Jan Egeland (and other similar non-full time and/or dollar a year individuals, including the one Marie named, T.R. Larsen. Separately, is it possible to confirm or deny that on Mr. Ban's recent trip to Syria, the Syrian Foreign Minister openly criticized T.R. Larsen in front of Mr. Ban? If so, what was Mr. Ban's response? Had T.R. Larsen been slated to attend the meeting with Assad?

"Finally, does the UN have any response to the (BBC-reported) complaint against MONUC and UNDP for not paying more than $50 each to the disabled Congolese who wrote the election song distributed by UNDP?"

   To the Egelend and Roed-Larsen questions, the following came back:

Subject: In lieu of noon briefing, questions: UNJSPF, Larsen/Egeland, MONUC
From: [Associate spokesperson at]
To: Matthew Russell Lee
Sent: Wed, 2 May 2007 3:15 PM

Don't have figures for Jan Egeland, who's just begun working with us, but Larsen's contract is When Actually Employed; that is, he is paid at USG scale for the actual number of days each year in which he's doing UN work.

 As for Larsen's meetings in Syria -- he didn't meet with Assad, whose meeting with the SG was tete-a-tete (and therefore included no other officials on either side); but Larsen and Geir Pedersen, the SRSG for Lebanon, did accompany the SG when he met with Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem and Vice President Farouk al-Shara. You'd have to ask the Syrians about their opinions of Larsen -- certainly they were willing to meet with him, as with the rest of the team.

 To this were add two one-liners:

 from Ban Ki-moon's Spokesperson's office:  "Egeland is also When Actually Employed"

[Note: this doesn't address the issue of being paid as a USG and by a private NGO at the same time] and

from DPA: "yes Jan Egeland has begun doing work under this contract"]

  Yet no one will say how much he's getting paid, nor what OHRM would do if a proposed WAE USG had a day job with Halliburton, for example, or an arms manufacturer. The head of OHRM, Jan Beagle, has allowed and engaged in numerous conflicted acts, and Ban Ki-moon is reportedly considering shifting her to an ASG position within DESA, whose new director for some reason won't begin until July 1. At Thursday's noon briefing, a Fox-like correspondent asked about rumors that DESA's Guido Bertucci may retire, before investigations into his acts have been completed. The Spokesperson's office answered later: "Bertucci's retirement was not until July 2008."

   Inner City Press also asked about the status of the 90 day "urgent audit" into UNDP in North Korea which Ban Ki-moon ordered 103 days ago -- are the auditors even getting into North Korea? Ms. Okabe replied that they haven't even tried. But what then was the purpose of Ban Ki-moons' February 28 letter to the North Korean mission, asking for assistance with the audit?  From the transcript:

Inner City Press: I thought the Secretary-General had written to North Korea on 28 February and you all announced it on 6 March that he'd written to North Korea saying please help my auditors.  So if they weren't even going to apply for a visa, what was the thinking behind that letter?  Can you say why Ban Ki-moon wrote to North Korea and said help me if in fact there was no help needed?

Spokesperson:  You'd have to ask the Board of Auditors.

Inner City Press: He wrote the letter.

Spokesperson:  Ever since he called for or he asked the ACABQ to request the audit, there have been a number of steps.  Actually what it was, it was that DPRK, I believe, is the one who sent him a letter expressing their concerns and he responded back to DPRK about their concerns.  I think that's the letter you're referring to.

Inner City Press: Yeah, but he said help us.

Spokesperson:  But again, you'd have to ask the Board of Auditors because they're the ones who investigated.  We don't know how much cooperation or non-cooperation they are receiving... the ACABQ which I mentioned is the body that requested the audit is starting to meet on 14 May.  So my understanding again is that at this session there will be something presented.

Inner City Press: I also remember Michele said something like 'the clock is ticking.'  So it's ticking.  Yesterday, we had a meeting of the Committee to Protect Journalists and they made a list of the 10 backsliding countries.  Number 3 was the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where obviously the UN has had a big presence for many years.  So a question that was raised, and obviously they didn't know because they just did the report, what is the UN, DPKO and other parts of the UN system doing in countries where they have a big presence to actually actualize and implement freedom of the press?  If incidents take place in countries where they have a big presence, do they speak to the Government?  Just in DRC for example -- where they were almost running the country -- how does the UN itself actually implement freedom of press on the ground, in countries like Haiti, where journalists are killed, or like the DRC?

Spokesperson:  I'll check in the DRC for you.

[The correspondent was later told that, in the case of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the UN Mission there, as part of its general mandate, monitors human rights conditions and protests violations of press freedom.]

 And so what is the UN's reaction to the DRC, where it has 20,000 personnel "monitor[ing] human rights conditions and protest[ing] violations of press freedom" being ranked the three worst backslider in the world? On the above-mentioned music royalties complaint in the Congo, Inner City Press was told by an Associate Spokesperson that the UN has no response, to the lawsuit by disabled musicians whose tunes UNDP distributed, since the money went through a DRC agency, and it wasn't "commercial" anyway. So screw the disabled musicians -- we paraphrase for UNDP. Happy Press Freedom Day.

Update of May 9 -- after Inner City Press had been told that, like Jan Egeland, Terje Roed-Larsen is paid When Actually Employed -- that is, at the rate of an Under Secretary General, but only on days actually spent on or in the Middle East -- now Larsen states that he is a volunteer. His travel and expenses are covered. This Daily Sustenance Allowance can runs to hundreds of dollars a day. But duly noted.

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At the UN, Mobility Defended, Member States Invoked, Pension Fund Video Screened and Panned

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN

UNITED NATIONS, April 27 -- On April 25, the UN Staff Union voted overwhelmingly to call on Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to suspend his plan of requiring staff mobility, the changing of jobs and even countries every five years. On April 27, Under Secretary General Alicia Barcena took ten questions from staff members, nearly all of which were critical of the mobility plan. Many of the comments asked for a delay until the UN's internal justice system is fixed, currently slated for 2009.

            A woman who has asked to be identified only as "a long time staff member," and about whose case Inner City Press later asked Ms. Barcena, stated that she was told on April 24 that she must "become mobile" on May 1. She stated that she is not against the idea of mobility. In fact, she has applied for several dozen other UN jobs, but has yet to be selected. She described a process in which, fearing she would be on the mobility list, she asked the UN Office of Human Resources Management. OHRM told her to ask her unit's executive officer, who told her to ask her program manager -- who referred her back to OHRM.

            "We want to hear your concerns," Ms. Barcena said at the beginning of the meeting. " We could do better." This is a disarming opening, and one not heard often enough these days at the UN. But as the complaints piled up, the purpose became less clear of hearing the concerning. "The member states have told us we must do this," Ms. Barcena said.

Ban Ki-moon on the move, in UN cafeteria. Mrs. Ban reportedly ate there as well, April 26

            In a decidedly non-scientific poll, Inner City Press asked the Sudanese Permanent Representative to the UN, Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem, what he thought of staff mobility. (The conference room in which the mobility Town Hall meeting was held was needed by 3 p.m. by the Group of 77, of which Sudan is a member.) "Never heard of it," Amb. Abdalhaleem said. He added, "They can come to Darfur."

            In search of more pertinent or up-to-date information, Inner City Press sought out a representative of the Staff Council, who argued that the rush to mandatory mobility is not what the General Assembly had in mind, and indicated that the President of the General Assembly has come to share this view. Time will tell on this last.

            Even on her way into the meeting, Ms. Barcena stopped to emphasize to Inner City Press how few staff members will be impacted in this first, "transitional" round: 61 staff at the P-3 level, 25 of them in New York, and 97 staff at the G-7 level, 16 of them in New York. In a sign of the need for reform, at least of data bases, Ms. Barcena said that initial computer runs indicated that 433 P-3 staff fell within the definition. "We looked more closely and it was only sixty one," she said. "We have work to do with our database." You might say so.

            At Friday's town hall meeting, the questioners included a self-described "friend of your predecessor" -- that is, of Chris Burnham, now at Deutsche Bank -- who said the member states want the UN staff to be efficient, and this is only possible in conditions of happiness and fulfillment, i.e. of job- and post-security. He added that if, as Ban Ki-moon told the staff this month, "this is the staff's house," the staff should be consulted before being told to move room to room. Ms. Barcena answered this by analogizing the Addis Ababa duty station to a room that is not so popular. But is this changed by incentives -- extra pay, more frequent home leave and accelerated promotion, for example -- or by requiring people to go there?

            A staff representative from the translation unit questioned, "Why are we investing in annoying twenty five people?" This drew laughter and applause from the crowd, and a retort from Ms. Barcena, that there might well be a translator in the Nairobi duty station who would like to live in New York.

            One questioner asked if behind the mobility plan is not the United States, wanting to reduce the number of G-4 visas. "Not that I'm aware of," Ms. Barcena said, adding, "I am Mexican, can you imagine?" This too drew laughter.

            More seriously, a woman asked what would happen if her children did not want to go to Africa but rather remain in school in the United States. Ms. Barcena acknowledged that these visa issues need to be reviewed. One editorial suggestion: if the U.S. in fact is in support of this mandatory mobility plan, concomitant visas flexibility could be requested. Similarly, given the U.S. stated interest in reform and the rights of whistleblowers, extended G-4 visas for any UN staff who blow the whistle is an issue whose time has come.

            There were also anachronism issues. A staff who is a graphic designer noted that although she is at the G-6 level, she has been told, not in writing, that she is subject to mobility in November. But UN duty stations other than New York have all outsource graphic design, so there is no job for her to go to.

            One questioner offered the suggestion that the UN hold an "e-referendum" on the mobility plan. Ms. Barcena indicated that this idea will be considered. She also stated that no one will be forced, no one will lose their jobs, we can put it in writing. While some in the Staff Union say they've heard that said before, at some point the wiggle-room is gone, it is put it writing or it is not. Either way, we'll be there.

            In terms of applying for jobs, it was stated at the meeting that the UN will now move away from its "Galaxy" system -- reportedly designed by Jonathan Blankson, subsequently discredited and suspended for falsifying his degree and resume -- to another "e-staffing tool."

            Interviewed after the meeting by Inner City Press, Ms. Barcena emphasized that the mobility plan would not in fact begin on May 1, since rules still have to be published, and that impacted staff members would be met with one by one. An observer said that those who spoke out might be spared, as might those from countries like Japan, which pay a lot of money to the UN but are under-represented in the staff. The person in charge of this shared the rostrum with Ms. Barcena, with bright white hair and a bright red top: Jan Beagle. In interviewing UN staff, nearly all road lead to Ms. Beagle, and yet she is rarely seen throughout the headquarters building, at least by the press corps.

            Ms. Beagle spoke once during the meeting, to emphasize that the New York Staff Union has chosen not to participate in a staff-management meeting where mobility was discussed, in 2006 in Nairobi. Ms. Barcena later softened this indirect accusation, saying that the next such meeting, in June 2007, will be held in New York to make participation by the headquarters staff union more likely.  We'll have more on this.

            On the issue of the UN Joint Staff Union Pension Fund, Ms. Barcena said she had met earlier in the day with Pension Fund CEO Bernard Cocheme, and would be meeting Monday with the Fund's Investment Committee. Inner City Press asked Ms. Barcena if she'd received and seen a new "Asset-Liability Study" DVD. Ms. Barcena indicated that it had been received, but she'd yet to see it, and was assuming the disk contained a written text. But no -- it is a 37 minute video of two men talking, to each other and the camera. Some have likened it to the Mike Myers movie "Wayne's World" about public access cable television. In it, unequivocal praise is delivered by Robert T. McCrory and one Neil Rue. ("You'll Rue the day," one of Inner City Press' co-watchers remarked.) It is not clear why these consultants, PCA Inc. and EFI Actuaries, thought that such a video was needed. Nor is it clear how the video will be used -- can it now justify the proposed outsourcing of $9 billion of the Pension  Fund? We'll see.

            Coming full circle to mobility, Ms. Barcena confirmed that Japan's Chieko Okuda is as reported leaving her spot as head of investments at the Pension Fund. That post, Ms. Barcena indicated, can be filled in-house. Like they say, mobility...

At the UN, Ban's Mobility Plan is Panned by Staff Union, Complaints of Favoritism

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN

UNITED NATIONS, April 25 -- Since becoming Secretary General 115 days ago, Ban Ki-moon and his spokespeople have repeatedly called for mobility of UN staff. The first step, slated to begin May 1, involves beginning to require job changes after five years.

   Wednesday the UN Staff Union passed a resolution calling on Ban to in essence stop the mobility. The UN's Conference Room 3 was packed, and when one speaker demanded to know, "are there any people with common sense" within Ban's Office of Human Resources Management, the crowd broke into a mixture of laughs and cheers.

            There were also complaints about Mr. Ban's April 12 town hall meeting with staff, which one participant characterized as "like a game show," in which staff members in New York could not get answers to questions because of grandiose attempts to patch in video connections in Vienna and elsewhere. There was with Ban, one speaker said, "no meaningful interaction."

            In response, the Ban administration has hastily scheduled for Friday another town hall meeting at which Under Secretary General for Management Alicia Barcena will discuss the issue. Several staff members interviewed by Inner City Press asked why the mobility plan's main promoter, Assistant Secretary General for OHRM Jan Beagle, was not stepping up to answer questions.

   The Staff Union has already passed a resolution calling on Ban to remove Ms. Beagle for OHRM, without effect. In the mobility fight, the grievance of the Staff Union shift from personalities to policies and potentially to litigation, if only before the UN's in-house Administrative Tribunal. The resolution passed Wednesday allocates $150,000 from the Union's reserve fund "as a legal defense fund to address enforced mobility of staff members if and when it occurs."

            That is the key word, that the Ban administration does not mention but which was repeated throughout Wednesday's Union meeting: enforced. At its simplest, Ban's mobility would require New York-based staff to go find jobs in the field after five years at headquarters. The selling-point of the idea is that it would allow the UN's far-flung workers to come and take jobs in New York. But many of the staff members interviewed by Inner City Press expressed skepticism, saying that for now, the UN runs on favoritism and the allocation of jobs by nationality. Until this and other problems are fixed, the mobility plan should not to forward, they said.

Going mobile? Mr. Ban leaves Syria, bound for New York

            At Wednesday's meeting, there were at least eight votes against the Union's resolution, and five abstentions. One of those voting no, who asked that his name not be used "because I have to work with these people" told Inner City Press that mobility is needed, that people get "frozen" in their UN jobs, are not flexible. A number of people who voted for the resolution hurried to add that they have no problem with the idea of mobility. From the floor of the meeting, one of the abstainers said that Ban is still relatively new and should be given time.

            Several speakers on Wednesday questioned by Ban would start the mobility plan with the lower levels of professional staff, and those in general service, rather than closer to the top. The head of UN peacekeeping, for example, Jean-Marie Guehenno of France, has held the post for longer than five years. Several staff members with whom Inner City Press spoke on Wednesday questions by the head of OHRM Jan Beagle was not the first to be subjected to enforced mobility and "scam," as one of them put it.  The answer is, Ms. Beagle's country New Zealand demands she keep the post, as do the other members of the so-called CANZ group, Canada and Australia.

            Sources point out that natives of the CANZ countries have been receiving a disproportionate number of posts. This is how the UN works. "Mobility is for suckers," one staff member said. "It would only be enforced on those without political connections."

            One of the more interesting questions raised at the Union meet was by its First Vice President, Emad Hassanin, who pointed out that only some General Assembly resolutions are implemented, and sometimes only parts of resolutions. Who can ensure action on what the General Assembly passes, in the few fields in which it actually has power? That remains a question without an answer.

            Staff Union president Stephen Kisambira told those in attendance that, as to their Pension Fund, the long awaited "Asset Liability Study" has been released. Inner City Press is told by multiple sources that the study is in fact a DVD, 30-some minutes in length, that is not supposed to be copied, only shown in the presence of their authorized to have it. The significance is that the proposed outsourcing of $9 billion of the pension fund had been de facto put on hold pending the completion of the study. Mr. Kisambira pointed out that a committee now deliberating on the Pension Fund has no staff member as a representative on it; he said that one committee member told him this is because the topic is "too technical" for staff members. It is, however, their pension money.

            Mr. Ban is slated to take questions from the press on Thursday, upon his return from Geneva and Syria, and Ms. Barcena will take them from the staff on Friday. Will Ban's mobility move forward? That too is a question without for now an answer.

In UNCA-gate, Mr. Ban's Dig from Geneva Leads to Speechwriter Questions in New York

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, April 24 -- Speaking at a dinner for the correspondents' association at the UN in Genera on April 21, Ban Ki-moon began with a statement which his spokesperson has since characterized as a joke, and which is quoted from below.

             Doubtless, there is a place for more humor in the UN system, on both sides of the Atlantic. And written transcripts cannot convey tone of voice or winks, if any. But the main job of a diplomat is to master communications. Lack of clarity, as the Federal Reserve's Alan Greenspan used to do it, should be intentional. It is difficult to imagine that the parochial echo in New York on Tuesday to Mr. Ban's Saturday remarks had been intended.

            First, here are Ban's remarks, as emailed to reporters by the UN on April 23:

SG: "Mr. President of the Correspondents Association in Geneva, Ladies and Gentlemen,

"It's a great honor and pleasure for me to meet all of you.  In fact, it is the first time for me to be invited by this whole Correspondents Association.  I have not even been invited by UNCA, the United Nations Correspondents Association in New York.  I hope that this fact, on the record, should be recorded from Geneva so that our people in New York know about this.  I am personally very much honored.  Normally I have been inviting journalists all the time in my life.  It's almost the first time for me to be invited by an association of correspondents like this one today, and I am very much personally honored by this event. And thank you very much for your warm welcome...

"There is one thing which I have found, new information, is that Geneva is the largest UN city in the world, even larger than the United Nations Headquarters in New York.  There are more international organizations, more diplomatic staff, more conference days in the year.  This is what I have found, in the sense that it may be a real sense of a headquarters of the United Nations."

            Tuesday at the UN's noon press briefing in New York, these statements were the subject to the first five questions, out of a total of only thirteen questions. Some are in true-jest now calling the matter "UNCA-gate," UNCA being pronounced Uhn-Cuh, the UN Correspondents Association.  Five reporters, like this one members of UNCA, fastened on the statement that "I have not even been invited by UNCA, the United Nations Correspondents Association in New York.  I hope that this fact, on the record, should be recorded from Geneva so that our people in New York know about this."

            People in New York asked what this meant:

Inner City Press: There was this, I am sorry if I missed this, there was this speech by Mr. Ban in Geneva, in which he said that they were the first Correspondents' Association...

Correspondent [UNCA President]:  I have to raise the issue officially.  The Secretary-General met with the Association of Correspondents last week in Geneva, and he told them that we here, [the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA)], have never invited him out.  So I wonder... and we have an official transcript of his remarks.  My colleagues were shocked by the remarks, to say it mildly.  I want to ask you, what was the reason for him to say that and why did he say that, in Geneva, while we had meetings with him here, in New York, at our invitation.  And I am pretty sure that he enjoyed the meetings, also.

Correspondent [UNCA Past President]:  And also, just to add, we did invite him to the annual UNCA dinner.  He was seated with the [inaudible].  So all proper courtesies were extended to him by UNCA.

Spokesperson:  Well, thank you to all three of you.  I am sorry these remarks created a misunderstanding, which I want to lift immediately.  It was meant in a light-hearted way by the Secretary-General.  It was referring to the irritation expressed by some members of the Geneva press corps that he was not able to travel to our second headquarters at the Palais des Nations until last week.  The comments were meant in jest, and not intended to be taken seriously.  I can assure you, that the Secretary-General is most appreciative of his meetings with UNCA, particularly the two gracious invitations extended by you to him early in his tenure and, most recently, for his 100 days in office.  He has told me how highly he values these informal exchanges and the exchanges he had with the correspondents' association.  And the work you do, covering the UN, is to him essential...

Inner City Press: In his talk there, he said that Geneva was the largest UN city in the world and that there were more international organizations and more diplomatic staff.  It may be the real UN headquarters.  I am wondering, I donít know if that was a joke as well, but if anyone could get the numbers, to know what the basis of this is.  And also, I don't know if you will answer this, but who is writing his speeches now, like what is the process of that?

Spokesperson:  I don't know if that was a speech. [See below.] He just improvised that.  He was answering questions after a lunch.  It was not a speech in any way.

Inner City Press: Got you.  Can we get those numbers?

Spokesperson: Sure, sure, you can have those numbers on how many agencies there are in Geneva, how many people work there, that you can have.  No problem there.

Sunny Correspondent:  Just for the record, some in New York have advocated moving the UN out of New York, butÖ just for the record.

Correspondent [AP]:  I would just like to make a suggestion that, since the transcript does appear on the UN website, that perhaps there could be a note attached saying that this was said in jest.

Spokesperson:  Well, it is not right now on the website.  It has been sent to you, but it is not on the website.

Correspondent [UNCA President]:  Some diplomatic missions saw the transcript.  I got a reaction from some missions also.

Spokesperson:  Okay.

Inner City Press:  Maybe there should be a section on the website for humorous speeches.

            This hasn't yet happened. As some correspondents remarked later on Tuesday, at first Mr. Ban's jokes were accorded laughter. His "Ban Ki-moon is coming to town" song at the UNCA Ball in December (click here to view), his referrals to himself as the Slippery Eel, a more recent statement -- to UNCA in New York, as it happens -- that "you all must be disappointed in me."  Some wondered: was he joking?

            And that may be the point. The UN Secretary General doesn't intrinsically have much power. It is a bully pulpit, or place from which to play diplomat. In that game, if you're going to joke, make sure it's funny, or at least, make sure people who read it will know it was intended as a joke.

            As documentation of Mr. Ban's statement that "Geneva is the largest UN city in the world, even larger than the United Nations Headquarters in New York," a spokesperson later on Tuesday gave Inner City Press a one-page print-out from the UN's Geneva web site, with a sentence highlighted that "with more than 1,600 staff, it is the biggest duty stations [sic] outside of the United Nations headquarters in New York." Inner City Press is informed that during his meeting with the Geneva UN staff union, Mr. Ban said he had "saved the best for last." And what to say in at the UN's hub in Nairobi?

            In answer to which speechwriter is traveling with Mr. Ban, contrary to the UN's written transcript quoted above, the spokesperson began "I don't know who wrote that" -- click here for video, at precisely Minute 10:25.

            On the question of Mr. Ban's speechwriters, it emerges that Edward Mortimer is gone, and that Richard Amdur is leaving. Coming in, Inner City Press is told, is Mike Myers -- not from Wayne's World or the bullpen, but from Newsweek. If this Mike Myers is taking the speechwriters job that was one of the 12 much-hyped mobility posts, that would be one that should be announced.

In Geneva, Mr. Ban, the Swiss president, Mrs. Ban, the Swiss Ambassador to the UN in New York, Peter Maurer

            Two of the few other questions at Tuesday's noon briefing went as follows:

Inner City Press: There was a report on National Public Radio here yesterday about reports of forced abortions in China... Is anyone in the UN system aware of this, looking at this, has the UNFPA said anything, are you aware of this?

Spokesperson:  Of course the UNFPA has been following these issues for a very long time.  You can find a number of...

Inner City Press:  This was a specific report of last week about women being forced to go to clinics and forcibly aborted...

Spokesperson:  No, I donít have a specific remark on that specific news report.

Inner City Press: There is a case now that the Supreme Court is considering whether New York City can collect real estate taxes from portions of diplomatic missions that are used as residences.  It is the Permanent Mission of India vs. New York.  And Mongolia as well, but the name of the case is India.  I know that the US State Department is siding with the Permanent Mission of India in this case.  Does the UN have any position on the case?  Does it feel that all of these premises should be tax exempt.

Spokesperson: We don't have a position on this at this point.  As you know, there is a committee about the relationship with the Host Country in the General Assembly, and they are handling this type of situation.

            On the court case, Cyprus is chairing the Host Country Committee, and its mission has said that a statement should issue tomorrow. On forced abortions in China, Inner City Press called UNFPA's previously-elusive spokesman Abubakar Dungus, and received this in return:


From: [Spokesperson at]

To: Matthew Russell Lee

Sent: Tue, 24 Apr 2007 4:54 PM

Dear Mr. Lee, Thank you for your call.  Please find below a response, as requested. You may attribute it to Abubakar Dungus, UNFPA Spokesperson.

"UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, is concerned about reports of coercive abortions in Baise city, China. The Fund has urgently raised this issue with national authorities and sought investigations. "Forced abortions are violations of international human rights standards, including those of the Cairo Population Conference, which state that coercion has no part to play in family planning.

"UNFPA promotes access to reproductive health care, including voluntary family planning, skilled birth attendance, emergency obstetric care and the prevention sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS. The Fund also promotes gender equality and the empowerment of women.

"UNFPA provides no assistance in Baise City. Neither does it support abortion there or anywhere else."

            And there you have it.

UN's Trip to Balkans Slated To Skirt Demonstrations, Hit Ethnic Enclaves, Work the Vote

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, April 24 -- As the UN Security Council prepared to begin its trip to Kosovo, Serbia and Brussels, their itinerary was presented to reporters on Tuesday by Belgian Ambassador Johan Verbeke, who is heading up the mission.

   Since it seemed clear that Amb. Verbeke would not and could not answer questions about whether or not Russia would veto a Security Council resolution of independence, Inner City Press asked Amb. Verbeke about reports of planned demonstrations at the Jarine crossing point between Serbia and Kosovo. Video here, from Minute 24:02.

            Amb. Verbeke said he had referred to demonstrations under the rubric of "security dimension," on which he is deferring to UN Under Secretary General for Security, David Veness.  As to which Serb enclave will be visited, Amb. Verbeke said it has yet to be decided, but that at least three types of locations will be included: an "Albanian village with missing persons," a Serb enclave, and a multi-ethnic community. "Comprehensive and balance," Amb. Verbeke called it. The exact locations remain "to be worked out," depending on logistics: whether the visits will be by bus or helicopter.

            And will this visit impact the votes of any Council members? Amb. Verbeke would not and could not say. It is noted that opposition is not limited to Russia. There is the Slovakian legislature, South Africa with its concern about maintaining borders, and now reportedly Indonesia.

Belgian Amb Johan Verbeke


            Marti Ahtisaari was in Indonesia on Monday, meeting at the State Palace with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, working for that vote on the Council. But afterwards, state spokesman Dino Pati Djalal told reporters, "We want this problem be settled peacefully, without triggering new conflicts. For us the most important thing is a process that can be received by both Kosovo and Serbia."


            Signed up for the trip, for Indonesia, is Mr. Hassan Kleib. For Italy, Marcello Spatofora. For the U.S., new Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, who took some few questions from UN reporters on Tuesday. For the UK, Deputy Ambassador Karen Pierce. Beyond the Council, but in the EU, Inner City Press has been told to check into the position on Kosovo of Spain, and Greece as well.

   Inner City Press is also told that UNMIK has brought in those in the UN who specialize is the wind-down and close-down of missions. Is this something that the visiting Council members may check? Developing.

Steamroller or Slippery Eel, Ban Ki-Moon's 100 Days at the Helm, Silence Doesn't Help

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, April 12 -- "I have many years to go," Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told UN staff on Thursday, apologizing for bureaucratic delays in recruitment and promotion and what he is calling "mobility."

            He could have been directing this "give me time" plea more widely, as anonymous UN insiders quoted ad nauseam in this week's "Ban's First Hundred Days" stories have been saying. The critiques, which Mr. Ban has been closely reading, have focused on the ham-handed introduction of proposals to split the UN's Department of Peacekeeping Operations in two, and to alter the UN's Division of Disarmament Affairs. After acrimony, the proposals were modified, after Ban mollified UN power players (or steamrollers) whom many say Ban hadn't sufficiently considered, if only to work around, in the first place.

         To belatedly play the Hundred-Day, sources-say game, a just-left Ambassador of a Permanent Five member of the Security Council credited Mr. Ban for acting on what this ex-Ambassador calls the "Cash for Kim scandal," in which the UN Development Program was found in withheld internal audits to be paying the Kim Jong Il regime in hard currency. Ban's reaction, on January 19, was to call for an "urgent audit" -- initially worldwide, then scaled back to only North Korea. Still, it was said the "urgent audit" would be completed in 90 days. In a stakeout interview Thursday morning, Inner City Press asked Mr. Ban, video here, from Minute 13:12 --

Inner City Press: The urgent audit that you called for of UNDP in North Korea, that was supposed to be done in 90 days, we are almost at that time and they still haven't finished the terms of reference.  So I am wondering is the time for the audit to be completed going to be extended, and also if the auditors are not allowed enter the DPRK, what will the UN system do in terms of concluding the audit?

Ban Ki-moon: It is still under investigation.  I do not have anything to tell you at this time.  Whenever I have further information I will let you know.

            The background to this (non-) answer is not only that Mr. Ban was called Slippery Eel by the South Korean press, but also that Mr. Ban has previously been asked to let the UN Board of Auditors speak to the press about their work, which still hasn't happened. Likewise, Mr. Ban previously said he would instruct his heads of funds and programs like UNDP's Kemal Dervis to be available to the media.

   But Mr. Dervis has not held a single press conference since the Cash for Kim scandal broke. In fact, Mr. Ban's deputy secretary general, Asha Rose Migiro, has yet to hold a press conference, having so far publicly taken a total of four questions from the media, including one from Inner City Press about UNDP. Thursday a "senior UN official," who spoke only on that basis, said that Ms. Migiro will head up Ban's next structural hot potato, "System-Wide Coherence." Ms. Migiro will meet Friday on the topic with General Assembly president Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa. Good time to take questions? We'll see.

Ban Ki-moon responding to if not answering questions, on April 12

            This being a Hundred-Day, Sources-Say story, the focus is on management style and on telling details. Beyond the bungling announcement of the DPKO split, Assistant Secretary General for Peacekeeping Hedi Annabi only learned that he is being let go by watching on in-house TV the noon press briefing of February 9, at which chief of staff Vijay Nambiar read out a (hit) list.

   Inner City Press is informed -- not by Mr. Sach, who now only intermittently replies to emails -- that UN Controller Warren Sach has yet to know "will I stay or will I go," even as his contract expires this month. The LA Times' 100 Day story, sharper than most, described an incident most UN correspondents had heard, of Ban Ki-moon rebuking outgoing disarmament chief Nobuaki Tanaka in such a way that "talk that Ban would not brook dissent ricocheted all the way to U.N. outposts in Geneva and Vienna."

            How openly under Ban UN whistleblowers can be retaliated against is a question that still hasn't been answered. Recently a UNDP staffer, close to the Cash for Kim matter, was accused of leaking information and was told, "You're fired and by the way, you have to leave the country." UN staff who are not U.S. citizens can be silenced with the threat of loss of not only their UN jobs, but their ability to stay in the U.S.. This could be fixed, by Ban or the host country. But will it be fixed?

            UN staff have other questions, including whether the outsourcing of $9 billion from their Pension Fund, pushed forward by Kofi Annan's USG for Management Chris Burnham, will go forward. At Thursday's town hall meeting, Mr. Ban said he still hasn't decided. Last month, Mr. Ban passed the hat of being his Pension Fund representative from Warren Sach to USG for Management Alicia Barcena back to Mr. Sach. Ms. Barcena, among the most approachable of Team Ban, has told Inner City Press that the switch did not indicate any change in policy about privatization. But then why switch?

            In the town hall meeting, Ban emphasized the idea of job mobility within the UN system, saying that Ms. Barcena and ASG for Human Resources Jan Beagle would develop the idea. The Staff Union has called on Mr. Ban to remove Ms. Beagle from that position, something on which there's as yet no response.)  Nor has there been any announcement of the winners of the dozen "mobility posts," including a speechwriter's gig, that he announced months ago. Some staff say those jobs were already handed out. How the winners are announced will be another test.

            Ban has reacted to other Hundred-Days stories by congratulating reporters, even those perceived as critical. There is at the UN something of a symbiosis: the beat reporters see their stars (and airtime or column inches) rise to the degree that the UN is important and its Secretary-General articulate and of interest. Recently, some question at Mr. Ban's press encounters are pre-screened, or at least pre-posed. Perhaps, one wag wondered, this is how it's done in South Korea.

            In fact, the back story to Mr. Ban's press availability on Thursday was his granting of face time to the South Korean media on Tuesday. When it was raised, a stakeout was arranged. It's been reported that during his recent trip through the Middle East, Mr. Ban dined each night with the South Korean ambassador to the country he was in. Some say that's fine, he knows these people. Others wonder at entanglements and influence.

            In the Cash for Kim audit, an irony's arisen. Some of the funding that is subject to the audit flowed from South to North Korea while Mr. Ban was Foreign Minister of South Korea. Inner City Press has asked the Office of the Spokesman for the Secretary General, how much? The spokesperson to whom such questions are assigned has referred Inner City Press first to the South Korean mission to the UN (which refused to answer or even respond), then to the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (where the spokesperson used to work, with Mr. Ban).

            "You can go beg the South Korean government," Inner City Press was told. Click here for that story. Well, no. The story will be told -- like Mr. Ban said, there are "many years to go."

            For now, we'll close with a seemingly apples-and-oranges comparison of the first 100 days, in the same state, of Ban Ki-moon and New York governor Eliot Spitzer, who has asked the press to call him a steamroller.

Steamroller Versus Slippery Eel: Tale of the Tape After 100 Days

            Ban Ki-moon took office promising to clean up the UN and its reputation, among other things. Eliot Spitzer said the same, and zeroed in on earmarks in the state budget, and lobbyist disclosure. While Ban Ki-moon made public his own financial disclosure form, none of the senior officials he has named has followed suit. Some argue that this must await action by the UN General Assembly. But Mr. Ban could have conditioned the granting of posts on the grantee making disclosure.

            One similarity is the need to back down. Spitzer had to back down on the budget, and was roughed up by the union of health care employees. Ban had to change, for example, his Disarmament program, had to go down himself -- not only sending chief of staff Vijay Nambiar -- to mollify the G77, as he will now have to do on System-Wide Coherence. Some say that the remaining ASG posts will be Ban's carrots to get needed support.

            Spitzer has quipped, "if we solved every problem in 100 days, there would be nothing left for us to do over the next three years and nine months." Mr. Ban might say the same -- perhaps he meant to -- except that it's FOUR year and nine months. Or maybe NINE years and nine months. Time alone will tell.

At the UN, Mayor Bloomberg Talks Global Warming While Fire Department Inspection Is Discussed

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN

UNITED NATIONS, April 11 -- As the UN moves toward fixing its headquarters building, while New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg announces a rare municipal climate change plan, Ban Ki-moon and Bloomberg met Wednesday surrounded by issues, surrounded by aides. UN spokeswoman Marie Okabe after the meeting said that among the topics covered were how the UN's fix-up, called the Capital Master Plan, could harmonize with the City's goal of reducing carbon emissions. Inner City Press asked about the attendance of NYC Fire Department officials.

            "There was a Fire Department inspection" of UN Headquarters, Ms. Okabe said, specifying that the inspection took place in late 2006. Now, she said, UN Under Secretary General for Management Alicia Barcena will be following up with the Fire Commissioner. Because the UN's campus is international territory, longstanding issues of immunity have more recently flared into tabloid Press stories earlier this year about rats and eels in the UN and no NYC inspections.

            Ms. Barcena has told Inner City Press not to expect the Capital Master Plan to be changed from the current version, involving the construction of a temporary "swing space" on the UN's North Lawn, to larger plan for a new tower south of 42nd Street. Marie Okabe repeated this on-camera on Wednesday, click here for video.

Messrs. Bloomberg and Ban on April 11: can carbon emissions be reduced?

            Mayor Bloomberg's public schedule for Wednesday, distributed to City Hall reporters at 7 on Tuesday night, included stops at Public School 61 in Queens and at Columbia University, with no mention of the United Nations. Inner City Press and others asked the UN press office if Mayor Bloomberg would stop and answer a few questions. The response was, "Ask City Hall."

            Wednesday afternoon, after having escorted take-no-questions Mayor Bloomberg to his waiting SUV, Ms. Barcena mentioned the Bloomberg-convened climate change summit announced earlier in the day. It is slated for May 14-17 and according to City Hall's press release will involved "mayors from more than 30 of the world's largest cities, including London, Paris, Tokyo, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Moscow and Istanbul.  Private sector companies will also be represented through sponsorship of sessions and events, and having CEOs in attendance.  These companies include: JP Morgan Chase & Co., Alcoa, Deutsche Bank, the Hearst Corporation, the Shell Oil Company, Siemens, Time Warner, BSKYB, Citigroup, Con Edison, Federated Department Stores, General Electric, Keyspan, KPMG LLP, Swiss Re, and Tishman Speyer." 

            This litany is not unlike the UN's Global Compact, in which large companies sign on to high-minded principles without necessarily changing their practices. Musing reporters asked Ms. Barcena what another item on the agenda, the City's help with Peacekeeping, could possibly have met. Marie Okabe had referenced New York's "diverse" police force. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has been involved in security in Haiti, and Bernard Kerik in other places, including for profit. It seems those topics did not come up, nor the UN's allowance of smoking in Mayor Bloomberg's smokeless city.

            One wonders if the UN will have a role in Mayor Bloomberg's climate summit, given Ban Ki-moon's on-again, off-again position on holding his own global warming summit. In this case, the warming appears to be more local and concrete, and to involve the fall-out from the Fire Department inspection. Developing...

Among the UN correspondents waiting in the lobby, to try to ask Mayor Bloomberg questions, a story emerged of a more recent rodent sighting in the Delegates' Dining Room, reportedly photographed by a visiting Brazilian judge. The same was heard later from diplomatic sources, which in the UN makes the story true, or as good as true. We will have more on this.

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